The American Journal of Public Health recently published results of a survey of 122 Canadian hockey players showing high levels of carbon monoxide in the blood of some after games, evidently from skating vigorously on indoor rinks after gasoline-powered Zamboni ice-cleaning machines finished dressing the surface.

While Zamboni emissions don't sound like anything the occasional recreational skater needs to worry about, it gave me one more reason to skate in the great outdoors whenever possible, instead of some dark, smoky, cavernous rink.

Oh, you didn't know people skated outdoors? To tell the truth, I'd almost forgotten too, until an open-air rink opened near our neighborhood in Annapolis this season and we rediscovered the joys of skating in the elements.

The distinguishing feature of the new rink is the absence of any distinguishing features -- no roof, no sides, no disco ball hanging from the ceiling, no neon sign out front; just a few lights scattered around among the trees and a good, stiff breeze blowing in from the Bay.

The other night we took the kids over for the evening session. You had to walk a short way from the parking lot and as we crested a rise, all you could see was skaters' heads and fluttering scarves swooping around the oval with an eerie fluidity, moving to the faint strains of Christmas carols over the loudspeaker.

Stars shone overhead and the wind gusted in cold from the South River, mixing with oak smoke from the warming room for an olfactory combination as sweet as all creation.

It was a wonderful night out there -- a little crowded, perhaps, with a few too many hormone-crazed teenagers lurching around out of control. But oh, that crisp, clean air pumping in and out of the lungs, and the tingle of cold on your face.

I see by the real estate ads that ours isn't the only place to discover the allure of an outdoor rink. Reston Town Center lately has been pushing its little, 55-by-105-foot facility in the shadow of the budding downtown there. Rockville has a small outdoor rink at the county's Government Center and the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission has operated partially enclosed rinks at College Park, Oxon Hill and Wheaton for years.

The District has two open-air rinks, at 14th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 7th and Constitution NW, and there's a new, small rink at the Bethesda Metro Center that advertises moonlight skating on Friday nights. Sounds wonderful.

The flip side of the back-to-nature movement is that fully enclosed ice rinks continue to flourish elsewhere in the region, notably in Virginia, where both the Mount Vernon Ice Rink and the Fairfax Ice Arena continue to advance the incongruous concept of year-round ice skating. Compulsory figures on the Fourth of July? Egad!

But Mark Thompson at the Fairfax facility said business picks up around Christmas and is generally better in the winter than in summer.

At our house the ice-skating bug bites around Dec. 1 and is in full swing by Christmas, and every year we get a little better.

My wife lately has been taking lessons and is on the verge of mastering backwards crossovers, a major accomplishment. My son, age 8, is hockey mad and a future danger to society. My daughter happily hugs the wall most of the time and I have perfected the effortless middle-age glide.

I don't think there's a place on earth where people are more attractive than on the ice, probably because they spend so much time smiling, whether completing triple jumps or collapsing in a heap. Fat men, skinny girls, old folks and the young all seem to profit.

With that in mind and the holiday season fast upon us, we provide the accompanying guide to public skating rinks in the area and urge that you have a go, with only one note of caution:

Watch out for that Zamboni.

MARYLAND

Bowie Ice Arena, 249-2088.

Cabin John, 365-0585.

Columbia, 730-0321.

Rockville Government Center, 279-9474.*

Bethesda Metro, 656-0588.*

Tucker Road (Oxon Hill), 248-2508.*

Herbert Wells (College Park), 277-0654.*

Wheaton, 649-2703.*

Quiet Waters Park, Annapolis, 222-1777.*

li3aDISTRICT

Pershing Park, 14th and Pennsylvania, 737-6938.*

Sculpture Garden, 7th and Constitution, 371-5340.*

Fort Dupont, Ely Place SE, 581-0199.*

VIRGINIA

Mount Vernon Ice Rink, 768-3223.

Fairfax Ice Arena, 323-1131.

Reston Town Center, 709-7800.*

* -- Denotes outdoor or partially enclosed rink.